Galapagos Islands Cruise Day 5: Swimming with penguins!

As the first group of several to land this morning on Punta Espinoza which is on the youngest island, Fernandina, our guide Enrique did his best to keep a good distance between us and the other groups.  On this island we saw so many marine iguanas that they were becoming commonplace to us – yeah, yeah, another marine iguana.  But we had to be careful as these creatures blended into the rocks so well that it was easy to step on one if you weren’t careful.

Sea lions stole the show on this excursion, especially the mother with her young nursing pup.


It was remarkable to see a majestic hawk swoop down onto a branch within ten feet of our group and remain there as we snapped pictures and took video.   He was within twenty feet of the mother sea lion and her pup and we all hoped he wasn’t sizing up his next meal.

 A gentle breeze cooled us as we continued to walk along the lava rock towards the volcano, making this walk much more enjoyable compared to yesterday’s blistering heat.  Mangrove trees lined the edge of the ocean.  As we moved inland, the Lava Cactus seemed to be the only vegetation to thrive.  In fact, the lack of life both vegetation and animals, at least to our untrained eyes, was noteworthy.

Next stop was Punta Vincente Roca on the northern tip of Isabella Island where we joined three other boats, two of which were dive boats.  As the boat travelled to the next location, we enjoyed some down time on board.

Barb and Tim, a pharmacist, relaxing on board.

Punta Vincente Roca was our next snorkeling site and I am so glad I didn’t miss this one.  On this trip, Chris and I have gotten into the habit of using our diving skills and signals while snorkeling such as maintaining close contact with your buddy (in fact we hold hands).  I have also noticed that I am a much more confident snorkeler now that I also dive.  I apply with ease the skills that I learned through diving like clearing my mask and snorkel.  Snorkeling is part of our daily routine on board, so I am glad I am enjoying it.

We were in the basin of a crater that had collapsed into the sea millions of years ago and which now formed a sheltered bay, close to a stony beach, and surrounded by walls of rock.  Our guide directed us to stay close to the shore and to simply float effortlessly in the surge.  This area was renowned for sea turtles and today was no exception.

At one point, we found ourselves surrounded by twelve large sea turtles, all of us floating in unison with the surge.  We were at one with the turtles!  It’s no wonder there is so much sea life as food is plentiful; hundreds if not thousands of tiny fish engulfed us.

Suddenly, a penguin torpedoed past us.  He was so fast he was gone before we fully realized we had just seen our first penguin in the water.  More penguins shot out of nowhere and darted around us.  We watched one little fellow feeding directly below us only to have him suddenly shoot vertically to the surface directly in front of our faces.  We watched a couple of penguins playing on the surface.  Dafne, the only person with an underwater camera, was desperately trying to capture them on film – and she succeeded!

To top it off, a sea lion caught a fish on land and then dove in right in front of us, eating his fish as he swam by us.  Incredible!  Now this was what I was hoping for in the Galapagos Islands!

Next we toured the bay from the dinghies, exploring a deep cave, and discovering all the birds clinging to the cliffs above.  We saw many blue footed boobies, bobby tern, pelicans, penguins and flightless cormorants.  A group of about eight or ten Galapagos penguins decided to swim alongside our boat, bobbing to the surface every now and then so we could track them.  I tried to capture them on video but they were so fast it was next to impossible.  Still, it was a thrill to travel alongside them.

It was here that I saw a Mola Mola Sunfish for the first time.  In fact, I saw three of them.   They were swimming close to the surface letting us catch a glimpse of them.    Mola Mola is the heaviest known bony fish in the world. It has an average adult weight of 1,000 kg (2,200 lb). The species is native to tropical and temperate waters around the globe. It resembles a fish head with a tail, and its main body is flattened laterally. Sunfish can be as tall as they are long when their dorsal and ventral fins are extended.

Photo courtesy of oceansunfish.org

We had a lot of distance to cover as we were travelling around the northern tip of Isabela and onto the eastern side of the island.  We celebrated as we passed the equator, by gathering in the captain’s bridge to take photos and enjoy a complimentary cocktail.  Our time in the Northern Hemisphere would be limited to a few hours before we returned to the Southern Hemisphere without fanfare.  We were warned that this passage was going to be long (6 hours) and rough.  As a precaution, we had our briefing before an early dinner that night.

The sea did indeed get a little rough, but nothing we couldn’t sleep through.  Not one of the passengers has been sea sick so far, probably in part due to the relatively calm waters as well as the fact that our yacht is a catamaran which makes it more stable.

 

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